When Michael Brennan was named the new principal at Marian Catholic High School, Hometown, in 2021, he brought with him not just a principal’s certification from Pennsylvania, but a background in special education with more than a decade of experience. experience.
Under her guidance, Marian established the Aquin Learning Support Program which “strives to educate the whole child in the areas of physical, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development”, did he declare.
Aquinas is a relatively new program in the Diocese of Allentown for families of boys or girls with learning disabilities, as Notre Dame of Green Pond and Berks Catholic High Schools previously offered the program.
Marian is in the first year of a three-year implementation plan that provides “quality, Christ-centered academic education in a Catholic school environment for children with identified specific learning disabilities,” Brennan said. .
“We started the program this year without advertising it, and there were 14 students in the program to start. Throughout the year, with transfers and other situations, we now have 26 students receiving some level of support in the program,” said Brennan, who has spent the past eight years in the school district of the Palmerton area as a learning support teacher and front department head. come to Marianne.
Brennan, who also has her special education teacher and supervisor certification from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, wanted to start the program “because of the increase in 504 plans and support for local learning, and also because of the mental health issues young people may face in the aftermath of COVID,” he said.
A 504 plan, Brennan explained, is one that helps a student who has a physical, mental, or medical impairment that limits their life activities, as opposed to a specific disability due to academic testing.
Brennan said statewide school data shows the norm for school districts is 10 to 15 percent of their student body is in special education, but it has increased in recent years, he said, and became “more than about 20% of the population”.
“We want to make Marian an opportunity for more and more students,” Brennan said. “With the program in place here, parents now have another place to send their sons or daughters.”
He added: “We can’t do all the accommodations, for example we don’t have a lift, but we can do a lot, and we want parents to know we’re there to help their son or daughter. build self-advocacy skills, build confidence, and develop leadership while supporting individual learning differences while respecting each person’s spiritual dignity and potential.
Accommodations, he said, often refer to test changes, class adjustments and curriculum modifications that can be updated or revised as needs change.
Brennan said the space once used for library purposes at the school has been turned into a ‘student support center’, a place where students in the Aquinas program go for help. .
To begin implementing the program, Marian hired Nicole Dunn, a Marian graduate in 2008, as Director of Student Support Services. Dunn holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in school counseling, both from Kutztown University.
Dunn, whose duties include overseeing orientation and the Thomas Aquinas program, said, “By fostering a culture of inclusion and advocacy, students benefit from one-on-one support as they strive to reach their highest potential; not just academically, but socially, emotionally and spiritually.
“Together with students, our Aquin team and teachers have worked tirelessly to tackle barriers to learning, embed differentiated instruction, and celebrate every academic victory – no matter how big or small. As we reflect on the success of our first year and look forward to our future goals, our hearts are filled with immense gratitude to our generous donor who has made this program from a dream to a reality.
With Dunn’s help, students and parents develop a schedule, do school planning, and get personalized attention. In some cases, students are scheduled for an additional preparatory period; others might get help from student-led tutors; and some receive individual attention.
Caitlyn Weniger, a Catapult Learning Program Advisor made available through a contract with Schuylkill IU, is participating in the program.
For the past two years, Weniger has helped provide support to Schuylkill County schools in the areas of mental health, academic success, transition planning, career readiness, personal development and social and student support in times of crisis.
To be eligible for the Thomas Aquinas program, a student must have an Individualized Education Plan or the 504 Plan when enrolled at Marian.
Michael Brennan, Marian Head of School, discusses the Thomas Aquinas program with Nicole Dunn, Director of Student Support Services. The diocesan school is now able to accommodate students with disabilities. BILL O’GUREK/TIMES NEWS